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Branding

Branding for EdTechs 101

Learn the finer details of branding for EdTechs

As of 10 Aug 2021, there are now 30 EdTech Unicorns around the world who have collectively raised over $20B of total funding in the last decade and are now collectively valued at $90B.

EdTech is overcrowded. It’s a huge market that is only getting bigger, so to stand out on it, you need to brand your product right. We have considerable experience in creating brand identities for EdTechs, and here we’ll share what we’ve learned. Let’s cram.

Intermediate Anthropology: The Audience

Branding starts with the audience. For kids, it’s fairly complicated: there are preschool kids and middle school kids, whose parents want them to learn a language, or to code, or plenty of other things. There are high school kids who could also use that, and/or help to prepare for state exams. And the branding has to be aimed at both the kids and their parents, as they’re the ones making the final decisions. Kind of like branding for a B2B software solution. While your product’s audience is coders whose lives are going to get a bit easier with your product, your branding there needs to aim at the managers acquiring it.

Brainly has the main page for kids and a separate page for parents

And then, it gets a lot more complicated for adults. There are a lot of big players on the market, schools, and courses with more or less universal branding — like Coursera, which teaches everything to everyone. So its branding needs to be neutral and appealing to everyone. Your product is likely to be more niche. It needs to stand out. To make it stand out, you need to brand it right, and to do so, you need to understand why these people are getting into education.

For educated and well-compensated adults, education has become a hobby. It’s a form of middlebrow entertainment. It’s something fun to do in your spare time, that also doesn’t feel like you’re just wasting time doing nothing. And all of us have very different definitions of fun. For your B2C EdTech to succeed, you need to know exactly who is your audience. Not just their needs, but their interests, their tastes, what do they watch on Netflix on lazy Sundays.

Show how the categories portrayed on Udemy to anyone who tells you that an EdTech is supposed to be all business

And then there are audiences for B2B EdTechs. B2B EdTechs divide into two big categories: corporate training branded for corporations, and digital products for schools and other EdTechs. There are some nuances to these categories, especially for products dealing with schools and colleges. But overall, it’s not too different from any B2B branding. In this article, we’ll focus specifically on B2C EdTechs.

With its safe digital blue color scheme and unassuming illustrations, at a glance, GoGuardian’s website could’ve easily been mistaken for another FinTech

Digital Studies: Types of EdTechs by Platform

You can divide B2C EdTechs into two categories: for those who want to learn something quickly, and for those who want to learn something immediately. You have colleges and universities out there to waste years on acquiring skills that will rapidly become dated. EdTechs are there to bring you back up to speed. They need to be fast, and they need to be exciting: again, education is now entertainment.

Advanced Mascots: Apps

For those who want to spend ten minutes a day learning how to say ¿Donde está la biblioteca? rather than ten weeks on a Spanish course, which down the line is also going to leave only a couple of hazy phrases in mind.

Mascots are an underutilized tool in branding for digital products — which is odd, because they solve a lot of problems, and are rather versatile. We have a whole article on branding with mascots. However, they are used extensively in branding for learning apps. With their playful nature, they fit both for kids and for adults — the most shining example being the Duolingo owl.

Duo (the owl’s name) isn’t only the most prominent mascot in EdTech, but one of the more recognizable and memorable mascots in digital products overall
Now Duolingo branding is extended into a whole character ensemble, in an attempt to "Sesame Street for grown-ups"

An educational app needs to be exciting, playful, friendly. Mascots easily do all that. Getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, but they can be used just as well for online schools (and not only aimed at kids).

Khan Academy Kids, Khan Academy’s offshoot for small children, has a whole zoo of mascots
HTML Academy is represented by a ginger cat named Keks (Muffin in Russian) who is also present in the lessons, adding personality to dry lessons

Intro to Communication: Online schools and Online courses

On the other hand, we have online schools and online courses. Those need to have just a little more weight to their branding. As we’ve mentioned before, if an online school or an online courses platform is aimed at everyone and teaches everything, it needs to be more universal. While staying exciting. MasterClass gives us a master class on how to brand such a product (sorry). MasterClass is an online platform with, well, masterclasses on everything, all by the world-leading experts. It hammers home their unique value proposition (a hell ton of celebs) while having a premium and exciting feel to it.

With the somber palette the website looks refined and premium, but the right font selection adds the drive to it. And then the needed excitement is brought on with content: Learn creativity with David Lynch! Cooking with Gordon Ramsay! Athlete mindset with Wayne Gretzky!

Meanwhile, a niche school needs more than its unique value proposition and its specialization to stand out. It needs to aim right at their wanted audience, speak their language, and fly their colors.

Our brand identity for Deutsch Online, the largest digital German learning school in the Eastern European market. It’s vibrant, full of drive, shows in your face how life could be once you finally sprechen Sie Deutsch

So, the difference between branding for an EdTech app and an online school are the notches on the scale fun — serious, and the difference isn’t all that big. Moreover, while an app that teaches English and an online school that does the same aren’t competitors. Even if they aim at the exact same audience. It’s quite likely even that a person studying English at some course is also supplementing it with an app.

UOL EdTech, the giant on the Brazilian market, presents itself with joyous 3D illustrations

Contemporary Pedagogy: Types of EdTechs by Specialization

Now we’ll see how EdTechs differ in their branding depending on what exactly they teach. Every subject requires a different approach, this market doesn’t allow for universal answers for a number of reasons. The biggest being that the market is huge, and you have to stand out to get anywhere.

English as a Second Language and Coding: Online Schools

If you google an online English teaching school, you’ll notice that a lot of their websites look alike. Here’s some light background, here’s a stock photo of someone smiling, maybe with a book in their hand (and if you dig too deep, you’ll see a lot of cheaper schools that prominently feature Big Ben on their website, a lot of them). Even worse yet, short of their name, location, and pricing, the text on all those websites is entirely interchangeable. The product offered is similar, if not downright identical, so a fresh tone of voice gets results. What’s left is colorful visual identity.

Our brand identity for Do English, an online Engish learning school, as seen on their website and on Instagram. Look at these colors and compare it to the most online schools out there

The same goes for online schools that teach people how to code. Whether coding or learning a language or anything else, you need to know two things. How serious is your audience about learning this skill, is that as a hobby or in a professional capacity (either way, you can’t get boring). And whether you’re teaching to kids. If you’re teaching to kids, you have a split audience: the branding needs to be welcoming to both children and their parents, as they’re the ones who will be picking the courses.

The way categories are represented on freeCodeCamp is exciting for those taking their first steps into coding. It’s so tech
In our brand identity for Kodland, an online courses platform teaching coding to children, we keep everything just the right amount of playful

The Psychology of Boredom: Professional Training

The problem with branding for professional training EdTechs is that they’re the exact opposite of the rest of them. They can’t be exciting, no one is taking a professional training course for fun. This leads to brand identities that at best don’t provoke any emotions, and at worse make us dread the boring drudge of education. But can’t they be exciting? If you’ve chosen something as your career, don’t you like at least something about it? Here you have to find something that your audience likes about their job, and speak in their language, and make the brand at least somewhat exciting. All of this is a lot more easier with creative professions.

Multiverse is an apprenticeship startup that shows personality and optimism in its visual identity
Skillshare shows lifelong learning with a green line as it ebbs and flows through our lifetimes
Bang Bang Education is a Russian platform for online courses for designers. As a product for designers, they get to go all designy in their design, and not only not scare away their audience, but entice them

The Psychology of Boredom 102: Preparing for State Exams

The exact details differ depending on the country’s market and that country’s exams, but the general picture is the same everywhere. We’re going to illustrate it with the Russian market, because that’s where we have the most experience with the EdTechs that help kids to prepare for state exams.

This segment suffers the same problem as the professional training. You can’t convince high school kids that education is fun (unless they’re massive nerds, and then you don’t need to do any convincing anyway). And your audience is children, so the identity still has to be colorful and exciting, even if dejected teenagers won’t betray it. A boring product for kids won’t get a second glance.

Our brand identity for Sotka, a Russian edtech helping kids to prepare for state exams. Sotka is Russian for hundred, which is the maximum score on the Russian standardized tests. The whole identity is full of action and pushes kids to that limit, with different subjects coded by different colors

Two different types of schools (or platforms for courses) are on this market. The first focuses on a single subject, like math. The second are those that prepare kids for everything. In the first case, your work is cut out for you: identify your exact audience (like we’re helping girls aiming at the top colleges prepare to write the best essays for their application) and see who else is in your niche and how you could stand out (all these math schools sure look boring, can we make ours fun?). It’s quite a bit harder for the schools that prepare for everything. Now these questions aren’t for just one product, it’s for a series of products, and they all have to be different enough from one another, while forming a cohesive whole.

Audience Revisited

Now let’s circle back around and get back to the audience, and look at the process through their eyes. Compared to a lot of other services, education is a lot more personal. The branding for EdTechs borders on branding for lifestyle products, except lifestyle products usually don’t ask you to put in any effort. You’re not going to waste not just money, but also time and energy on something that doesn’t fit you. This is why a B2C EdTech needs to speak with the audience in their language. The comparison with lifestyle products isn’t random either — lifelong learning really is a lifestyle, which is also why an EdTech needs to lean into social media even more than most other brands. A good school makes you feel like a part of a community.

Graduation: Outro

So, what have we learned today?

  • Education is now often seen as a hobby and should be branded as such;
  • The market is overcrowded and you need the right approach to stand out;
  • Knowing your audience is always important, but is doubly so for a B2C EdTech;
  • The market is extremely segmented, with a lot of finer details depending on your platform, what you teach, and your audience — there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

And that’s it. School’s out.

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